Friday, October 31, 2008

Bits and pieces

Peter is making a lentil curry for our dinner. I’m off duty for the rest of the day. That doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about food. Some very interesting stuff looms in our future over the next week.

Corned beef: I bought a cheap cut of beef, something called a cross-rib chuck steak, on sale at Safeway about a week ago. I’m corning it. Brisket is the normal cut for corned beef, but I’ve learned (much to my surprise) that corning has long been a technique for improving wild game of various sorts. There is also something called corned lamb for sale in cans. It comes from Australia. I’ve also learned that corned beef is not an Irish tradition. Hugh, our high-end cheese purveyor at St. Kilian’s Cheese Shop, told me he never had corned beef when he was growing up in Ireland.

I cured some turkey legs in the corning brine some time ago. After they were simmered for a couple of hours they tasted great, much better than the packaged “smoked” turkey you get at the market.

After trimming up a cut of pork to make a Japanese-style curry earlier this week, I was left with some fatty strips. I put them in the same solution as the beef (not together with it) and anticipate it will turn out to be a kind of bacon. If the result is what I expect, I can see hunks of it in a cassoulet with potato and sausage. I think I will bake it after rinsing the brine off – just enough so that it’s no longer raw – and then see what happens if I grill (stovetop) a piece of it. Fascinating!

I downloaded a magnificent looking chicken pot pie recipe a few days ago. Sorry, I don’t remember the link. It has great pictures (I hope to start including some here soon).

Peter goes away from Sunday midday until Tuesday afternoon, and I’ll be thinking and planning how to share all this stuff with him when he gets back.

On another front, I bought a hand-cranked pasta machine of Ebay. I’ve seen Lydia Bastianich use one on her tv show many times. I’m excited to give it a try. My first dish will be ravioli stuffed with buttercup squash with a sage butter sauce.

The wonderful thing about winter’s approach is that we have set aside the cold and room temperature dishes and can go heavier: stews, slow-cooked hunks of protein, etc. I don’t know if today’s curry will be ample enough to be dinner again tomorrow or if we will eat it for lunch. I’ll keep an open mind about it all.

We have leftover napa cabbage which I will turn into sauerkraut over the weekend. That way, when Peter is back home, we can have homemade Reuben sandwiches next Wednesday. I had to go back through this blog to discover that I haven’t discussed cassoulet. That makes sense, as I began writing in July. Cassoulet is cool weather food. I have my recipe for it in my book, “A Year of Food.” I’ll post it here sometime soon.

Well, that’s about it for today. Mostly I’m writing to get my thoughts organized about all the delights we’ll enjoy soon.

Happy cooking and eating!

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Macaroni with cauliflower and spinach

What to have for dinner? There was a good deal of cauliflower left from the curry from a few days ago – actually ¾ of a head. I don’t know where the idea that jumped out at me came from. I think it’s from memories I have of my childhood when, with 5 children in the house and a step-father who always had a job but never made a lot of money, my mother shopped and cooked very frugally. That wasn’t a bad thing much of the time, but cheap beef liver made it onto our menu more often than I would have wished.

As an adult I learned to love liver, primarily by discovering calf liver in a restaurant in, of all places, Portugal. Now I will eat beef liver occasionally, chicken liver occasionally, and calf liver whenever I see it on a restaurant menu. However, liver is not today’s topic.

A concoction we also had often (really inexpensive) was macaroni with tomatoes and ground beef. I think of it often and have put together various improvisations on that theme over the years. Off I went to Safeway.

After checking the manager’s specials (the meats that are within a day of their “best if used by” date) and not finding anything, I had a look at the various smoked sausages and kielbasa. I settled on a turkey kielbasa. For some reason adding a few handfuls of baby spinach sounded like a good idea. I would have bought an onion if I’d thought of it, but I had scallions at home.

Most of us are aware that food manufacturers are manipulating us by keeping the price of their canned or boxed products the same but making the containers smaller. Do you still assume that a box of pasta is going to be a full pound? Many are, but Barilla makes a “plus” pasta in several shapes that is whole grain and very satisfying. It does, however, come in a 14.5 ounce package.

The good news is that Peter and I eat so much less than we did some years ago, that box, once a single meal for the two of us, now yielded leftovers using only half of it!

Anyhow, this is a homely recipe, but a very good one. The prep work isn’t over the top and you can have this on the table in half an hour if you’re in a hurry; or an hour if you start early, make a Cosmo and watch an episode of “Millionaire” while you sip it – pasta water warming on the stove and your mise en place in place.

Macaroni with kielbasa, cauliflower and spinach
1/2 box pasta in any shape you like
1/2 piece kielbasa, about 7 oz.
¼ head of cauliflower, cut into ½” floweret’s
¼ lb baby spinach
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
4 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
¾ cup chicken stock
juice of 1/2 a small lemon
¼ cup scallions, white and green parts
¼ tsp celery seeds
¼ cup heavy cream
salt and pepper (use white pepper if you have it)
Grated romano cheese to taste

In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter. Add 1 pressed garlic clove and stir briefly. Add the baby spinach and cook just until barely wilted. Remove and set aside.

Add 1 tbsp olive oil and another clove of garlic. After 30 seconds add the cauliflower and scallion. Toss to coat with the oil. Add chicken stock, celery seeds, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. You could use celery salt in place of the seeds and salt, but be judicious; that stuff is fiendishly salty. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the cauliflower is tender but still a tad al dente.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil, season generously with kosher salt, and cook the pasta according to package directions. When it’s done, use a spider to transfer it to the sauté pan. This is so that you add a bit of pasta water to the mix. Alternatively, reserve 1/8 cup pasta water, drain the pasta in a colander, and then add it and the reserved water to the sauté pan. Add the cream and the wilted spinach to the pan and toss everything together. Taste and adjust for seasonings, top with some cheese, and serve in heated bowls.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Double Indian Dish

We are fans of “America’s Test Kitchen,” a PBS show produced by “Cooks Illustrated” magazine. Even though the two chief “testers” are women who talk in upspeak (one of them distinctly more than the other), what they teach us has led to some good meals here in chez Stephen and Peter.

We watched an episode the other day in which two Indian curry dishes were prepared. They made us hungry and we decided to try their ideas yesterday. What we did was to combine the two recipes into a one-dish meal. One was a vegetable curry and the other was chicken tikka masala, which made use of garam masala, a spice mixture we’ve had in the pantry for quite some time and rarely have used.

My result was terrific thanks to the test kitchen basic recipe and my own creativity. After the fact, my challenge here will be to remember all the adjustments I made on the fly.

The tikka did not call for curry, but the vegetable dish did – so I used it. I discovered a new way to dice onions. I used a mandoline with the julienne blade attached. Slice the onion in half, leaving the stem end intact. Peel the skin off and, using the mandoline, slice the onion. You can get a very fine dice this way in a hurry.

The main thing the test kitchen crew did was cook the chicken separately from the sauce, a diversion from the traditional cooking method. The aim was to keep the chicken moist. It worked wonderfully well. In most traditional Indian recipes a little extra garam masala is added at the end of cooking, just before serving. On test kitchen the chef said it gave the dish a slightly "harsh" taste. Having added garam masala at the end of preparing pureed eggplant last week, I disagreed and did add a bit more must before serving.

Peter made a yogurt sauce to garnish this. Using a hand-held immersion blender, he mixed together yogurt with mint leaves and cilantro. The only down side was that the amount of moisture in the mint and cilantro rendered the yogurt quite loose. It still tasted really good on the dish.

Even more good news - there was enough for last night's dinner and today's lunch.

Chicken Tikka Masala with curried vegetables
2 chicken breast halves, skinned and boneless
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 tbsp ginger, grated or minced
1 medium red potato, in a ½” dice
1+ cup small cauliflower flowerettes

Masala sauce:
2 tbsp vegetable oil
½ medium onion, diced fine
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 tsp grated ginger
1 fresh Serrano chile, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp garam masala
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, with their juice
1 tsp sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/8 chopped cilantro leaves

Combine cumin, coriander, cayenne, and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with the spice mixture. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 3 hours. In another bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger; set aside.

Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a large saute pan or Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes until softened and slightly colored. Add garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste, curry, and garam masala; cook, stirring frequently until fragrant – 1-2 minutes. Clear a space in the middle of the pan and add another tbsp oil. Drop the potato and cauliflower in and stir the whole mixture thoroughly together.

Add tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are tender – about 20 minutes, maybe more. Stir in cream, remove pan from heat, and cover to keep warm.

While the sauce simmers, preheat the broiler with the rack in the top position. Thoroughly coat the chicken pieces in the yogurt mixture and arrange on a wire rack set over a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Broil chicken until the thickest part registers 155° on an instant-read thermometer. The outside should color in places slightly. Flip the chicken once half way through cooking. Total time will be 12-14 minutes.

Let the chicken rest 5 minutes, then cut into 1 inch chunks and stir into the sauce over medium heat. When hot, but not simmering, stir in cilantro and serve over basmati rice, white or brown.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Monday, October 27, 2008

The power of ramen

Behold the lowly, cheap, ubiquitous ramen noodle. A package can be had for 15 cents, sometimes less. Prepared simply according to package directions they are a quick and tasty small meal. Doctored up or used like pasta, without the flavoring packet, they are versatile and offer countless possibilities.

Let’s say you need a fast meal. Would you rather wait 10-12 minutes for pasta or have your food ready in 3 minutes? I vote for the 3-minute choice.

While the water boils you can rummage through your fridge and find whatever you can: scallions are an excellent choice. Toss them in with the noodles while they boil if you prefer to get the rawness out of them. Toss in a few cherry tomatoes or leave them raw and quarter them.

Any leftover meat in there? Cut it into bite-size pieces. Nuke it. Or, take those scallions, tomatoes and the meat and warm it in the microwave. Nothing will prevent you from being ready to chow down in only the amount of time required for boiling the water and cooking the ramen.

Toss the hot noodles with some parmesan cheese and garlic, add tomato sauce if you have it. Ecco - Italian food! Leftover lamb, chicken, or beef and a splash of good yogurt – you’re now in the eastern Mediterranean. Open a pouch of tuna, warm it up, add those scallions again and maybe some jack cheese – tuna noodle casserole. Mac and cheese with noodles? Why not.

The possibilities (I risk repeating myself) are indeed endless. Eat them in a taco, a pita, between slices of bread. A noodle sandwich? Well, the other day (actually for two successive days) Peter and I ate eggplant parmesan jammed between the halves of steak rolls with slices of crispy bacon. Marvellous!

Perhaps you have looked at those packages of ramen noodles in the supermarket and mentally wrinkled your nose. I am not suggesting you should forgo pasta, only that when time is of the essence (or your budget), there is this alternative.

A meal for one is what 1 package is. Just think, for 30 cents and the leftovers you can make a lunch or late-night snack for 2.

Stir a dab of peanut butter into ½ cup of chicken broth, add scallions and a splash of nam pla (fish sauce) and chili flakes. You’ve just transported yourself to Thailand.

Add a can of clams with their liquid, some grated cheese, a bit of mashed garlic and you have a very serviceable substitute for linguini and white clam sauce. Make it a quasi-red sauce by mashing up some cherry tomatoes or adding spaghetti or tomato sauce you may have. Now you’ve got a red sauce.

Throw some medium sized shrimp in (shell them first) with the noodles, add something for a sauce (maybe even just the flavor packet they come with) and you’re hunger pangs will be gone. If the shrimp are small or already cooked, add them for the last few seconds of the 3-minute cooking period.

There’s always parsley, cilantro, oregano, or tarragon with grated cheese for a simple vegetarian version (got any leftover veggies on hand, or frozen ones?).

The secret of ramen is, first, to have them in your pantry. Buy 10 packages ($1.50 – big deal) of mixed types. If you don’t use the flavoring packet all the noodles are exactly the same. Have all of the ingredients I’ve suggested above on hand. Who doesn’t have peanut butter, maybe tuna, something leftover? You may not have nam pla. If not, it’s worth trying.

I’ve gone on long enough. Just wanted to share.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lamb skewers with yogurt sauce

I got caught short the other day. I was planning to make dolmades, stuffed grape leaves, using leaves from our huge grape arbor behind the house. I picked the leaves a few weeks ago and stored them according to directions I found on the web. When I got them out they were covered with mold; and we had a freeze last night which rendered the remaining grape leaves outside unusable.

So I got the idea to make teeny lamb skewers as an appetizer for a dinner party we were giving last Friday night. I made something like this once before. They were considerable larger and were quite good. I have no recipe, but know how to make one up.

Mini lamb skewers
1 lb lamb, ground
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup bread crumbs
¼ cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
7 oz. Greek-style yogurt*
1/8 cup finely chopped fresh mint
juice of 1/2 large lemon
1 clove garlic, finely minced or pressed
salt and pepper

Cook the onion in 1 tsp olive oil until translucent. Set aside to cool.

Preheat broiler.

When the onion is cool, combine with lamb, egg, bread crumbs, parsley, cumin, salt and pepper, and the lemon juice in a bowl. Stir until thoroughly incorporated. Make one small rectangle, about 1” x ½”. Microwave it for 30 seconds and taste for seasonings.

Shape into similar small rectangles. Place on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with Pam and broil close to the heat for 2 minutes. Rotate the pan 90° and continue broiling for 2 more minutes. Turn the lamb pieces over and broil another 3 minutes, rotating the pan again halfway through.

Remove from the oven. Reduce oven to 170°. Place a toothpick in each patty through the narrow end. Recover with foil and keep warm in the oven.

Mix yogurt, lemon juice, mint, garlic, and salt and pepper (to taste) in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a tiny bit of olive oil. Serve as a dip for the skewered lamb.

*At our supermarket we can get 7 oz. containers of real Greek yogurt. It is thicker and tastier by far than more generic yogurts. The plastic container it comes in is just large enough to mix the sauce in it without dirtying an extra bowl. If you can’t get real Greek yogurt, take 6-7 oz. of plain yogurt (lo-fat if you wish, but not no-fat if your diet can accommodate it) and place it in a fine-mesh strainer. Let it drip into the sink for 30 min. to an hour. Then proceed with the recipe as above.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Monday, October 20, 2008

Pastiche of the day

For 3 days, while Peter was out of town, I ate a monotonously delicious diet. His last night home I made turkey Milanese, cutlets dredged in flour, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs, and lightly fried. I had brined the cutlets in salt and sugar water for several hours and they were practically falling apart even before cooking. I fried them in 1/8" of vegetable oil for exactly 2 minutes per side and they were wonderful.

I cooked only what we were going to eat that evening and stored the rest under plastic in the fridge. The next night I cooked what was left and had enough for two dinners. My lunches were gravlax (made last weekend) on toast. I was in culinary heaven.

Last night Peter was back home and I wanted to make something special. In fact, I made 2 somethings special: eggplant puree and what I must call a pastiche. ‘Splain that to me, Lucy.

First of all the eggplant puree recipe came from an internet recipe. It stewed gently on the stove for about 3 hours until a little judicious mashing with a potato masher turned it into a soft and delicious puree – a little spicy, but not past our point of tolerance. If such a dish interests you, go that google thing. You'll find dozens of different possibilities.

The pastiche is an object lesson in what to do without having to go shopping. We all have various and sundry things in the pantry, sometimes for so long we don’t even remember buying them. Here’s what I found: Israeli couscous, homemade chicken stock, celery, ½ a yellow bell pepper, ½ an onion, and 2 brat sausages I bought thinking I would eat them while Peter was away.

Pastiche of the day

Chop a stalk of celery. Chop the bell pepper. Chop the onion. So far pretty easy, say what?

Chop up the brats – no need to remove the casings. Put all of the above in a sauté pan with a bit of olive oil and a nice fat clove of garlic and cook until the sausage is no more than slightly pink.

Add 2 cups of chicken stock to the pan and bring to a boil. Add the couscous and simmer uncovered until it’s tender, about 6-8 minutes (I wasn’t watching the clock). Season with salt and pepper to taste. If the concoction is too wet (mine was), strain off the excess liquid and save it.

That’s all there was to it. The result was extremely satisfying. There’s enough of it, and enough eggplant, to provide a lunch today.

If I seem pedantic and didactic, it’s because I am. The whole purpose of my blog postings is to inspire the home cook to get busy and creative. The eggplant dish could certainly be made a day ahead. I was making it on a Sunday, so available time was no issue. My pastiche took 30 minutes including both prep and cooking time. If you don’t have 30 minutes to devote to a delicious and nutritious dinner, do carry-out.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Caesar-style salad

I call this “Caesar-style” because it’s not a real Caesar salad. It does not have egg in it and includes lemon juice instead of vinegar. However, it is reminiscent of the real thing and quite tasty.

As with many of the things I prepare, I made this up. The hearts of palm are optional, but are a wonderful addition. The olives are also optional.

One of the best Caesar salads I ever had was at a Denver restaurant, Prima, where Peter and I had lunch, paid for with a gift certificate he had received as a Christmas gift. I recall my entrée was cioppino, made by a new cook at the restaurant. Our waitress was eager to know what I thought of it. After a couple of years I don’t really remember much except that, in general, I liked it.

We started lunch with a shared Caesar salad. It was a copious quantity of hearts of romaine lettuce with a delicious dressing and shaved parmesan. Indeed the salad was over-dressed, at least in terms of how we eat at home.

As it happened we had Castelvetrano olives, a very mild green variety, and romano cheese on hand. I guess the only kind of olives I would not use would be standard green ones in a jar – the kind that might be stuffed with pimento.

Caesar-style salad
1 head heart of romaine
juice of 1/2 lemon, about 2 tbsp
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed
extra virgin olive oil
parmesan or romano cheese
salt and pepper2 pieces hearts of palm4-6 olives, any kind you like

Slice the lettuce in half lengthwise and trim the bottom end. Keep the halves intact and place each on a salad plate cut side up. Alongside the lettuce place a piece of heart of palm, sliced or not, and a few olives.

For the dressing: put the lemon juice in a bowl. Add garlic and salt and pepper and whisk in olive oil, tasting frequently, until an emulsion is formed and there is a good balance of the flavors (your judgment counts for everything here).

Stir in finely grated cheese, again to taste. Spoon dressing over the lettuce, palm and olives, and top with a bit more grated cheese if you wish.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New England-style clam chowder; bread sticks

When I was at my seafood store last week I spotted containers of chowder clams in the freezer. It gave me an immediate hankering for clam chowder. As is my usual method, I consulted numerous recipes and narrowed them down to one. What drew me to it was the inclusion of fish broth and clam juice, both of which we had. I basically made a half recipe as the original was to feed 8.

The recipe is from Jane Brody’s “Good Seafood Cookbook.” Back in the day, we adhered to a low fat diet. We don’t do that anymore. My cholesterol was barely within bounds in spite of our diet. The solution in the end was medication – Zocor. In 6 months my overall number dropped from 310 to 181 or thereabouts.

As I constructed the chowder in my mind I had to make some changes. For one thing I was not about to add 3 cups of water, how tasteless could that be. And I was not about to use evaporated milk. Half and half with chicken broth was the way to go.

I paid no attention to her clam quantity. She called for fresh clams or canned. Why not frozen? I had a quart container of clams and used them all. Clearly, for lower fat purposes, her choice of Canadian bacon was appropriate. I used real bacon.

Jane wanted corn kernels, I had frozen peas. My shrimp stock didn’t have a lot of taste, so I bumped up the amount of broth. Beyond these qualifications, I followed the assembly guide fairly closely.

It came together quickly and was superb. More good news: there’s leftovers for today’s lunch.

New England-style clam chowder
1 quart chowder clams, thawed, liquor reserved
3 slices bacon, cut into 1” pieces
¾ cup chopped onion
¼ cup chopped scallions
½ cup chopped celery
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 12 oz. bottle clam juice
1 cup shrimp or fish stock
2 cups chicken
1 lb red potatoes, cut into ¾” dice
1 cup peas, thawed
1/3 cup chopped parsley
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp sweet paprika
white pepper and salt, to taste
2 tbsp cornstarch, dissolved in water
1 tbsp butter
¾ cup half and half

In a large pot, cook the bacon until crisp and set aside on paper towels. Pour off all but 1 tbsp of the grease. Reheat the pan over medium-high heat and cook the onion, celery, garlic and scallions for 5 minutes.

Add the clam juice, reserved liquor, shrimp stock, chicken broth, thyme, salt and pepper, along with the potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are tender, 12-14 minutes.

With the liquid at a simmer, stir in the dissolved corn starch. Stir until thickening takes place. Add the half and half, butter, and clams and bring back to a simmer. Cook for 1 minute, remove from heat, check seasonings, and let the chowder stand for a couple of minutes.

Serve with puff pastry bread sticks (recipe below) in heated bowls.

Puff pastry bread sticks
1 sheet puff pastry
Parmesan or romano cheese
white pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Thaw the pastry sheet and unfold on a cutting board. Brush lightly with olive oil. Grate cheese to taste over the top and also several pinches of white pepper. Slice into 9 strips in the direction of the fold.

Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Let stand on a cooking rack for 5 minutes before serving.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Friday, October 10, 2008

An off-the-cuff dinner

Sure you can get out your “Joy of Cooking” and find a perfectly good meatloaf plan, probably with optional variations. But when you find a piece of top round in your freezer that you just know is not going to give you an edible London broil (I know from experience), and the weather is quite cool, screw your courage to the sticking point and get creative. I did consult “Joy” for just one thing: internal temperature for the meatloaf - 160°.

The fact is you could simply prepare ground beef as if for a burger, put it in a loaf pan, top it with cheese and have “burger loaf.” Same for chicken, turkey or pork. A standard meatloaf mix will generally have 2 or 3 different kinds of meat. Anything you would do to a hamburger you can do to meatloaf. Be brave. You have to go quite a distance to screw it up.

If you are using ground beef and ground veal 160° is too high a temp. However, lots of people use chicken, turkey or pork along with beef. The poultry must get up to 160°; the pork to 145°. That low for pork? Scientists tell us the infrequent potential from undercooking piggy meat is obviated at a temperature of 137°. Personally I go for 140° for, say, pork tenderloin or a roast of pork.

“Joy” told me to get the meat up to 160° with ground pork in it. I didn’t think I wanted to go that high, but caved in to my uncertainty about the processed pork sausage I used. In the end the meatloaf was well done and a little dense but had excellent flavor. And, dressed with some homemade tomato sauce (you could use a jarred spaghetti sauce for this), it was very, very good. Next time I’ll go for 150°, as I indicate below.

I couldn’t help but notice some other components of the cookbook meatloaf recipe: meat quantities, egg quantity, bread crumbs, etc. But I was dealing with specific amounts of ingredients I had on hand and adjusted everything accordingly.

I went out to buy one thing I didn’t have, pork sausage. The Safeway had some available in bulk and I was able to buy the ½ pound I wanted. The clerk assured me it was spicy sausage. That turned out not to be true. If I do this again with that same product, I’ll definitely add some red pepper flakes.

Recently I posted a recipe for baked artichoke hearts. I got it from Rachel Ray. Each time I’ve made it I like it less. The food network website gave me a few ideas and I invented an artichoke braise that I think is superb. It was a side dish to the meatloaf along with some polenta.

So, starting from square one…

(Don’t let your) Meatloaf
1.4 lbs. top round, ground
½ lb hot Italian sausages, casing removed
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
½ medium onion, finely diced
1/8 cup parsley, chopped, plus more for garnish
1 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper
2 tbsp pimiento, chopped
4 bay leaves
4 tbsp tomato sauce, plus more for garnish

In a large bowl, mix the meat and sausage together with your hands, just until combined. Add remaining ingredients except bay leaves. Toss lightly until combined.

Put the sausage through the grinder if it is particularly sticky. It will blend better with the beef than way.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven.

Spray a loaf pan with Pam. Place bay leaves on the bottom of the pan. Add the meatloaf mixture, pressing it carefully into the pan to eliminate air pockets. Top it with tomato sauce. Place the loaf pan on a baking sheet and put it into the oven.

Bake until the internal temperature is 150°. Remove from the oven, tent with foil, and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes. The sides of the loaf should start to pull away slightly from the sides of the loaf pan.

You could try to remove the meatloaf from the pan, but I chickened out and managed to extract the first (most difficult) slice intact. Slice with a serrated knife into 1-inch slices or larger if you want. Served with your favorite steak or barbeque sauce if you wish.

Braised artichoke hearts

I am far too lazy to disassemble artichoke hearts. You can get them frozen at the market and, while not quite as good as fresh, they are perfectly viable.

1 package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and at room temperature
6 thin slices of lemon
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
pepper (white if you have it)
½ cup chicken stock

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a sauté pan. Add the lemon slices and the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. A word about the lemon: slice them across including the peel and be sure not to include any seeds. The rind will not be bitter after its cooked.

Add the artichoke hearts and salt and pepper and sauté just until the hearts start to take on a little color. Add the broth, cover, and simmer for a few minutes while you finish up other dinner preparations. You can always reduce the heat to very low at let them sit a bit longer. Or, you can take them off the heat and serve them warm, though I think not a room temperature.

What could be simpler than that?

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Stovetop roast chicken

I’m breaking my own rule today: sharing a recipe I did not make up or adapt. There’s a reason for this, be sure of that. Unless you subscribe to “Cooks Illustrated” magazine you won’t have access to this.

I cook chicken many different ways. A favorite in our house is chicken breast paillards (see my July 31 post). But this recipe intrigued me. The idea is to get crispy well-cooked chicken parts on top of the stove. It’s a great idea for a hot day when you don’t want to turn on the oven.

In “Cooks” test kitchen they used a whole cutup chicken. I decided just to go with thighs (with skin and bones).

Anyhow, here it is:

Stovetop roast chicken with spicy Thai sauce
1 package chicken thighs (4-6 count)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
¾ cup low-sodium chicken stock
salt and pepper

Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tsp oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until shimmering. Add chicken pieces skin side down and cook without moving until golden brown, 5-8 minutes.

Using tongs, flip chicken pieces skin side up. Reduce heat to medium low, add broth to skillet, cover, and cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°, 10-16 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate.

Pour off liquid into 2-cup measuring cup and reserve. Wipe skillet with paper towels. Add remaining teaspoon oil and heat over medium high heat until it is shimmering. Return chicken skin side down to skillet and cook undisturbed until skin is deep golden brown and crisp and internal temp is 160°, 4-7 minutes. Transfer to heated plates and tent loosely with foil. Skim fat from reserved cooking liquid and add enough additional broth to yield ¾ cup.

Spicy Thai sauce
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp sugar
1 garlic clove minced or pressed
½ tbsp fish sauce
½ tsp Thai red curry paste
1 tbs chopped cilantro

To the skillet add ½ the lime juice, sugar, garlic, fish sauce and curry paste. Cook over medium high heat, scraping bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon until the spoon leaves a wide trail in the sauce, about 2 minutes.

Add reserved cooking liquid; return to simmer and cook until reduced to 1/3 cup, 2-3 minutes. Stir in any juices from the resting chicken; return to simmer and cook 30 seconds. Off heat, stir in cilantro and remaining lime juice. Pour sauce around chicken and serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fried green tomatoes

We can all get many vegetables all year round. The supermarket tomatoes in winter are inferior, but you can make do with romas and cherry or grapes for lots of uses. Canned tomatoes are pretty much the way to go in any dish you're going to cook.

Zucchini is ubiquitous and seems pretty much the same in any month of the year, as are potatoes, egg plants, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, etc. Canned veggies should pretty much be avoided at all costs. The only ones I use are beets and artichoke hearts.

Then there is the freezer department. Peas, only available fresh during a short season of early summer (and expensive), are good frozen - as is corn, okra, and artichoke hearts.

But I didn't intend for this to be a Baedeker's on vegetables. Today I'm inspired by one thing you can only prepare from the real thing: a green tomato just off the vine. They start to ripen in only a couple of days so it's probably best to store them in the fridge unless you're using them right away.

I owe homage to Alton Brown for this recipe, and also to my partner, Peter, for the additional technique of salting the tomatoes and then toweling them dry after 1/2 an hour. Alton's ingredients are for more than we can eat in one sitting, so basically this is adjusted downward by 2/3. My contibution is the addition of cayenne pepper to the party.

Confession time: while Alton would use a thermometer to get his oil to a precise 350°, I use an old-fashioned method. When you think it's about there, flick a few bits of water from a respectful distance into the oil. If it pops instantly you're good to go.

We've been making our own breadcrumbs from leftover ends of loaves that are two small to be used for a sandwich. Just toast in until cry and crispy and chop them in a food processor. Again, a modification of Alton's plan: we used oyster crackers instead of the saltines he prefers. If you think about it, there is little difference between the two other than shape and size. Breadcrumbs of any kind (unseasoned) will do if that's all you have on hand.

Fried green tomatoes (serves two as a side dish)
1 large green tomatoes
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tbsp water
oyster cracker crumbs
vegetable oil (enough to coat your frying pan about 1/3" deep)

1/2 hour ahead, slice the tomato (use 2 smaller ones if yours isn't large) to 1/4" rounds. Start by trimming a small slice from each end, which you can discard.

Place the slices on paper towels and sprinkle kosher salt over them. Let them stand for 30 minutes (or more if you want), then press them with paper towels to remove as much moisture as you can.

Sprinkle them with a little more salt, black (or white) pepper, and cayenne to taste. Dredge them in flour, then coat with egg (allowing excess to drip off), and press them into the cracker crumbs. Set them aside on a baking rack for a few minutes, test your oil and, when it's ready, carefully slip the tomato slices into it. If you use a ten-inch skillet with straight sides you can fit one whole tomato in. If you bulk up this recipe, cook the slices in batches.

It will take about 3 minutes per side. Just take a peak and turn them when the first side is golden brown. So as not to disturb the coating, turn them by picking them up by the sides with a a pair of tongs.

When side two is done, tranfer them to a paper towel with a plate. Take a second towel and dab the tops gently to remove some of the oil. You can add another sprinkle of salt (and/or pepper and cayenne) at this point if you wish.

Serve immediately and enjoy.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Friday, October 3, 2008

Shrimp quiche

No philosophy today. Just a recipe I made up and enjoyed. In part it was necessitated by the presence of an extra Pillsbury pie crust in the fridge. Waste not, want not.

Shrimp quiche
4 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
pinch of paprika
2 scallions, chopped
½ medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
10 oz. peeled, deveined shrimp
2 Hatch chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded
1 Pillsbury pie crust dough, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (375 for a non-glass pie plate).

Before starting, be sure to have all ingredients at room temperature.

Whisk one egg lightly with a tablespoon of water. Cut a circle of parchment paper to the size of the base of your pie plate.

Place the dough in the pie plate. Place the disk of parchment paper on the bottom and put in pie weights, either beans or regular marble-shaped pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the pie weights and the parchment paper. Apply an egg wash with the egg you whisked. Allow the crust to cool nearly to room temperature.

Place the shrimp in a food processor and pulse until fairly finely chopped.

While the crust is blind baking, sauté onion and bell pepper until softened but not colored. Lightly salt and pepper. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the shrimp and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove to a bowl and allow to cool completely.

Meanwhile make your filling. Whisk together the eggs, parsley and cream, including the egg used for the wash. Season with salt and pepper and paprika.

Combine shrimp mixture with egg mixture. When the crust is cool pour the filling into it. Top with scallions.

Bake for 25-35 minutes, removing the quiche from the oven when the top is set and lightly browned. Allow to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature with addition parsley as a garnish if you wish.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

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